A prototype of an inflatable heat shield was successfully tested by NASA, a device that could be used for future space explorations – including landing humans on Mars.
The Christian Science Monitor
reports that the Inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment 3, or IRVE-3, was conducted in Virginia on Monday.
During the experiment, a small capsule was launched atop a suborbital rocket, and an inflatable heat shield was deployed in space before it plummeted back through Earth's atmosphere to splash down in the Atlantic Ocean.
The demonstration flight could easily lead to new re-entry systems on future spacecraft, said Neil Cheatwood, IRVE-3 principal investigator at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.
“As far as the applicability of the technology, [we were] originally motivated to do this to allow us to potentially land more masses at Mars,” Cheatwood said, The Monitor reports. “Mars is a very challenging destination. It has a very thin atmosphere — too much of an atmosphere to ignore, but not enough for us to do the things we would at other planets.”
Since the inflatable heat shield is designed to withstand hypersonic speeds and extreme temperatures, the IRVE-3 technology could provide more options for where to land future spacecraft or rovers on Mars, such as touching down at higher latitudes.
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